Joseph Kim
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Sodatone

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Story

I was approached by the co-founders of Sodatone to design the user experience for their inaugural product. Sodatone is a data analytics and visualization platform built to assist the music industry in discovering emerging talents. The company was later acquired by Warner Music.

 
 

Challenge

When investing in music artists, data is just as important as talent, but it’s difficult to collect and not presented as a comprehensive story.

How can we make the discovery process more data-driven without overshadowing the artist’s creativity?

Outcome

Experiential artist profiles each providing a synergy of sight, sound, and supporting data that uniquely characterizes the artist.

Main Insight

Music listeners connect with artists on an emotional level. Therefore, data must be communicated and reinforced by these emotions. This was accomplished by applying music-colour associations in visual design.

Setting a Visual Mood with Dynamic Artist Colours


Understanding the Who and What

Before designing, it was important for me to understand our users and their problems. To get a better picture, I first outlined our business, user, and technology requirements to formulate user personas.

Business Requirements

  • Build a large database of artist profiles which include key metrics on their music, social media engagement, live performance, audience demographic, and publicity

  • Retain users by providing weekly reports and updated metrics on tracked artists

  • Engage users in artist discovery by recommending new artists based on parameters selected from their tracked artists

User Requirements

  • Search for artists and receive an aggregate of key metrics on the their music, social media engagement, live performance, and audience demographic, and publicity

  • Track artists and monitor their recent activities

  • Preview artists’ music and videos

Technology Requirements

  • A scheduled scraper that collects artist data from SoundCloud, Spotify, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Songkick

  • An embedded media player capable of playing audio and video

  • An artist recommendation system

  • A search engine

Planning the User Research

The user personas helped me design a study around how people search for artists online and interpret their creative identity. I began by outlining some important questions and assumptions that will guide my research.

Questions

  1. How do people search for music artists online?

  2. What do people look for when they’re introduced to a new artist?

  3. How do people connect with an artist?

  4. What makes people gain or lose interest in an artist?

  5. What motivates someone to listen to music they’ve never heard before?

  6. How do A&R scouts visualize and communicate artist metrics?

  7. How do A&R scouts organize artist metrics? How do they navigate between them?

Assumptions

  1. People search for music artists by entering a name in a search bar and selecting the correct one from the search results.

  2. When people are introduced to a new artist, they listen to his music to verify that it suits their tastes.

  3. People connect with an artist when they enjoy listening to the music, relate to the lyrics, and/or appreciate the aesthetics.

  4. People gain interest in an artist when at least one of the reasons from the previous assumption holds true. Otherwise, they lose interest.

  5. People are motivated to listen to new music based on curiosity.

  6. A&R scouts visualize and communicate artist metrics using time series charts, tables, and individual KPIs.

  7. A&R scouts organize artist metrics in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. They navigate between them using labelled tabs.


The Research Plan

Based on the behavioural nature of my research questions, I decided to conduct a series of short-term ethnographies and a competitor user journey analysis.

  1. Recruit three participants each having a preference to use Youtube, Spotify, and SoundCloud, respectively.

  2. Shadow each participant separately in an artist discovery session where they were given the name of an unfamiliar artist. Observe how they search for and respond to the artist.

  3. Conduct contextual interviews with each participant.

  4. Synthesize and explore any phenomena.


Comparing User Behaviours on Different Music Platforms

The three participants I recruited identified themselves as a Youtube user, an extreme Spotify user, and a SoundCloud user when they listen to music. For each user, I assigned them the task of listening to an artist they weren’t familiar with and observed how they accomplished the task using their preferred platforms. Afterwards, I compiled my research notes into a multi-level user journey of competitor platforms to find common user patterns that I can adopt into my product design.

Comparison of Competitor User Journeys

Comparison of Competitor User Journeys

Exploring How Users Associate Music with Visual Cues

From my research, I learned that the participants could sense what the music will sound like based on visual cues such as the artist’s album art. This meant that their first impressions were formed through sight rather than sound.

In my attempt to explore this phenomenon, I came across a research paper on colour-music associations. The study demonstrated the existence of robust cross-modal matches between music and colours that are mediated by emotional associations. Therefore, colours were used as a key pillar in the user experience to align with how people search and respond to artists online.


Actionable Insights

1. The fastest way to communicate the artist’s creative identity is through colour information that signal the same emotions as the music.

2. People judge artists online by experiencing their visuals, music, and metrics holistically.


Defining the User Journey

User Journey for Artist Search and Track in Sodatone


Iterating between Wireframes and Implementation

Originally started with wireframes from the co-founders…

And iterated towards …


Animating the Media Player

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Final Design


Closing Thoughts

Throughout the design process, I learned how important it was to understand our users and their problems through research. The insights gained from observations and interviews helped me make informed design decisions that ultimately shaped the entire user experience. Knowing that my designs played a factor in Warner’s decision to acquire Sodatone and that they are in use by real people helped me build up my creative confidence.

Sodatone was widely used by A&Rs across the industry, and felt like the most dynamic, effective tool to help us learn from that data in real time.
— Max Lousada, CEO of Warner's recorded music operations